We interviewed Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D. She provided us with some excellent information for parents regarding eating disorder prevention, treatment and recovery.
Below are her comments:
Parents Have Power
We are in luck, because parents can have a great deal of power in the prevention of eating disorders!
It is critical to begin to provide education early – prior to adolescence. Begin to talk to your child about the importance of a healthy body image before all the changes of puberty begin. Stress the importance of function over appearance.
Our bodies are our homes! They are the vehicles to move us around our journey in life. Stress the point that they are not meant to be perfect.
Educate your kids about diet culture, and about the differences between real life, and what the media is portraying in terms of how bodies should look.
Lastly, be a good role model. Don’t criticize your own appearance in front of your kids. Don’t comment on other people’s appearance. Eat with your children. Don’t diet. Provide them with a foundation to have a strong and healthy relationship with food throughout their whole lives.
If Your Child Has a Friend With an Eating Disorder
Parents should encourage their children to reach out if they believe one of their friends has an eating disorder.
Talk to your children about the importance of asking for help from an adult, instead of trying to help this friend on your own.
Discuss how eating disorders are complicated and serious, and stress the importance of talking to their friend’s parent, teacher, or another adult support if they believe this friend is struggling. If this has already happened, and the friend has support from professionals and adults, talk to your child about how words matter very much to this friend right now.
Stress the importance of not focusing on weight, calories, or food when hanging out with this friend. Also encourage your child not to comment on any changes in their friend’s physical appearance.
Schools as a Partner in Eating Disorder Treatment
Schools would be wise to begin to incorporate eating disorder education and awareness into their education curriculum as early as elementary school.
Elementary schoolers often learn about MyPlate nutrition, and healthy food versus “junk food” in health classes, so it makes sense that eating disorders and body image education should be provided as part of the standard curriculum as well.
My belief is this would provide kids with a more balanced education and overall view of health in general.
Schools should also begin to provide yearly eating disorder screening days. This could be helpful for early identification and intervention for children that may have flown under the radar otherwise.
Finally, it would be helpful if school counselors and school psychologists had more training on how to support children recovering from eating disorders during mealtimes. Often times these are the individuals expected to support children who are coming back to school after treatment, and these skills are often not intuitive. Hence extra training would be beneficial.
The Healthcare System and Eating Disorders
We have mounting evidence to support the fact that eating disorders can be treated successfully, however many insurance companies refuse to cover the cost for treatment until individuals are extremely ill. This is counterintuitive. Why wait to treat this life-threatening illness when we know that the longer that it progresses, the more difficult and stubborn it can be to treat?
Even when health care costs are covered in part, the reimbursement to families is often inadequate. Additionally, insurance companies often pull coverage as soon as patients hit “minimum safe weights” or as soon as their blood work begins to look normal.
This is confusing to patients, and frustrating to clinicians, as eating disorders contain both physical and psychological symptoms. The healthcare system, and managed care in particular, needs to begin to acknowledge this fact, and get onboard with the idea that providing treatment before and after critical conditions makes more sense for long-term recovery.
Colleen Reichmann, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of individuals with eating disorders and body image issues. She has worked at various inpatient eating disorder treatment facilities, and is the blog manager for Project HEAL. She lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and golden doodle and currently works at a group practice.
Project HEAL is an organization that provides funding for individuals who cannot afford treatment for their eating disorder. Please visit the website if you would like to know more about this opportunity!